Grace Notes

By Bernard MacLaverty

Click Here for Artist's page in Archive

This is part of the life of Catherine McKenna - estranged daughter, vexed lover, new mother and a woman composer making her mark in a male dominated field.

“When she came back from the phone she lay down on her bed and watched Anna again. It was like the lover and the beloved. She could not get enough of her, this tiny person who had grown out of her body. Half her, half Dave. Nothing had prepared her for it. Yes, she had gone to pre-natal classes on the island. She knew what to expect. Everybody she knew, or ever would know, had gone through this process of being born. She saw her own family nested like Russian dolls. She’d had this baby inside her, while she had come from inside her mother, who had in her turn been inside Granny Boyd.

It was so utterly common and ordinary. And yet when it happened, it was a miracle. That her baby should be here, that she should be who she was, was a profound mystery. And if it wasn’t a profound mystery, then her child was a burden to her, a mere nuisance. Her child was so much more than Catherine’s eyes could take in. Although what she saw astonished her. The fingernails, the dark fluffy hair of the head, the whorl of the ear, they were all part of her and yet they belonged to someone else. Somebody totally other. It was like attending musical theory classes all her life, learning to sight-read, being shown the instruments and handling them, seeing photographs of composers, reading books about harmony and counterpoint but at no time ever hearing a single note of music. Then on a particular day, at a particular time after all the preparation, after all the theory and the rules and the speculation, she is led blindfold into a hall and an orchestra explodes into the celebratory sounds of, say, the voices’ entry in Handel’s Zadok the Priest or the final section of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy or the closing section of Messiaen’s Turangalîla symphony.

And the voice of her teacher leans close to her blindfolded ear and says quietly, ‘That’s what it is. Now do you understand?’

This is what it was. Anna. Her baby lying in front of her, an arm’s length away. There was the baby she had carried inside her head and there was the baby she had carried inside her body. They were not the same. The one in front of her was better by far.”

Copyright © Bernard MacLaverty. Reproduced by permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge and White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN

This is part of the life of Catherine McKenna - estranged daughter, vexed lover, new mother and a woman composer making her mark in a male dominated field.
On the remote island of Islay she struggles for her artistic life in the midst of a relationship gone dangerously wrong. In Glasgow she gives birth to a child - and receives a career-making BBC commission. And in her home town in Northern Ireland she returns to bury a difficult father, forge a tentative peace with her mother and confront the ghosts of a constricting past.
Through it all she strives to maintain the habit of art, in the face of depression, privation and misunderstanding.

Grace Notes explores the connections between man and woman, past and present and the connection between the two communities that are divided by religion in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

Further Infomation


Tom Adair, Observer: “Here, more powerfully than ever, MacLaverty proves that, like Bernard Malamud before him, he ranks as a master of haunted realism … by far his best novel yet.”

Cessida Connolly: “There are some writers - William Trevor is one, Alice Munro another - who are so accurate, so subtle, that you are hardly aware of reading them at all … MacLaverty is in the same mould.: there are no pyrotechnics here, no conjuror’s tricks. He doesn’t use his profound insight and compassion to dazzle, but to illuminate…Grace Notes is a small masterpiece… resonant, lovely, true.”

Peter Kemp, Sunday Times: “MacLaverty summons up time and place with an unerring exactness reminiscent of Joyce’s Dubliners… A magnificent portrait of the sources and ends, wretchedness and rewards, of creativity.”

John Burnside, Scotsman Books of the Year: “Grace Notes should have won the Booker Prize - and deservedly won the Saltire - for its quiet beauty and breadth of vision”

Andrea Barrett: “I was reminded of the way Joyce Carey so brilliantly portrayed a painter’s life in The Horse’s Mouth … What a wonderful writer [MacLaverty] is!”

Elspeth Barker, Independent on Sunday: “MacLaverty’s ear for dialogue is impeccable… I have to say it. This is a marvelous book.”

Allan Massie, Scotsman: “MacLaverty brings off the remarkable feat of allowing the reader to hear music that has not been written. It is magical… A convincing work of art.”

Brian Moore: “In every sense a triumph… moving throughout and ending triumphantly and joyously in its own special music.”